Fashionably Late to the Overwatch Party

Continuing my trend of picking up ActiBlizz titles after they’re no longer cool, I’ve recently gotten into Overwatch. I’m a little less late to this party than Diablo III, but still, at this rate, I’ll be playing Destiny 2 circa 2047. The funny thing is, I didn’t actually want Overwatch. I’m not a big fan of shooters or competitive-only games. I played the beta back in ’16, and thought to myself “Self, if ever I was to get into a shooter, this would probably be it. But I can’t justify $60 for it, because I’m probably never going to play.” Plus I was always bitter that it could have made such a great MMO, but instead they scrapped that and made a Team Fortress 2 clone.

So why did I end up getting it? My wife bought it for me. She’s not the biggest gamer in the world; she really likes Guild Wars 2, but generally the other gaming we do together involves me dragging her around to Star Wars the Old Republic or Elder Scrolls Online. It’s not that she doesn’t like those games, but new and different games tend to stress her out. So that’s why I was surprised when she started talking about getting Overwatch. The theater where she used to work used to run ads for the game, which caught her attention, and she also has several friends who play. A few weeks ago, we found a couple of copies of the GotY edition on sale for more than half off, so my wife bought each of us a copy, and ever since we’ve been playing a few games every night that we have free time.

As I said, I’m not a big fan of competitive shooters. That’s mainly because I’m pretty bad at them. I’ve played mostly against bots so far, though I’ve been brave enough to try a few normal matches (sorry to anyone who’s been paired up with me). I really like the wide variety of characters available. So far my favorite characters are mostly defensive and support (which should be unsurprising to anyone who plays MMOs with me), specifically Bastion, Orisa, Moira, and Torbjorn. I’m really bad at the squishy DPS characters, so I’ve mostly avoided that whole section, but I really want to spend some more time playing Pharah, because her jetpack seems really fun to me (as long as I can stay alive).

So far, the community has been surprisingly jerk-free. I know they’re out there, and I’ll probably run into them more as I rank up, but I’m enjoying it while I can. My biggest complaint so far? I wish there were a way to earn credits outside of getting dupes from lockboxes. I really want that Nova Terra outfit for Widowmaker (even though I’m not that good with her) or the Immortal Orisa (both StarCraft crossovers). If my luck so far is any indication, I doubt I’ll get either from a random drop. It would also be nice if I could sell costumes that I’m never going to use. I’d also be willing to pay money to buy outfits directly, but this is the Age of the Lockbox, so I doubt either of those things are ever going to happen. But hey, if the biggest thing I can find to complain about is that I’m not getting cosmetics fast enough, I guess the game isn’t doing too bad.

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Do MMO Control Schemes Discourage Player Interaction?


It is widely agreed that MMO players are less social than they used to be. This is a very complicated issue, and people have suggested a lot of reasons. A common scapegoat is the advent of dungeon/raid finders, which disincentivize players from forming long term relationships in guilds and such. Some blame the casualization of the genre, with players pushing for systems that allow for fast and furious consumption of content, with no reason to slow down and talk to the other players around them. Most importantly, in my opinion, is that Internet culture has simply changed. It’s no longer novel to be talking to someone in another city, another state, or even another country while playing a video game like it was when I started playing MMOs in 2005. Of course, there are always those ever-present rose tinted glasses that players tend to wear when looking back on their early days in gaming.

Then a tweet from blogger (or, sadly, ex-blogger) Braxwolf, got me thinking:

My immediate reaction was that, while I think he’s correct in saying that this is a general trend in MMOs these days, I’ve had that same experience of people snubbing me in chat in Elder Scrolls Online more than in any other game I play. I think that this is, in part, due to the minimalistic UI that the Elder Scrolls series employs. It wasn’t too long ago that we didn’t even have nameplates above characters’ heads, and chat bubbles still don’t usually seem to work for me. It might also be that the players have hidden chat, either to increase immersion or block out whatever political flame war is going on at the moment. But for me, I think the biggest discouragement to interaction when playing ESO versus other MMOs is the control scheme, which is something I had never really thought about.

Back in 2005 and for many years thereafter, I played RuneScape extensively. For those not familiar with the game, it’s an oldschool style game that involves a lot of grinding out levels by clicking on stuff and watching while your character does some action repeatedly–chop a tree, harpoon for sharks, swing a sword, whatever–until the thing you were doing got used up/moved/died. I know that sounds terribly boring, and… well, quite honestly, it kind of was most of the time, but that’s what we did for fun back in my day and we liked it, dangit. But all of this waiting around while your character did stuff allowed for random conversations to pop up. Yes, the average age of the playerbase was probably barely in the teens at the time, so half the time you didn’t want to hear what was being said, but every so often you found someone really cool, added them to your friends list, and talked to them whenever you were bored with no one around. I made some of the best Internet friends this way, and I’m still really sad that I lost touch with some of them.

Later, games moved away from point-and-click controls to more WoW-style controls, and now we’re seeing more and more games (like ESO) with shooter-style action combat controls. In these games you can’t really type without bringing your gameplay to a grinding halt, or at best running the risk of autorunning off of a cliff. ESO takes this a step further, by enabling gamepad support. I’m not sure how many players use gamepads, but I know that if I was, there would have to be something really important to say to get me to put down my gamepad, reach over to my keyboard, type out my message, and then pick up my gamepad again. I’m certainly not going to hold a conversation going back and forth this way.

There are, of course, methods of interaction other than typing. Most notable is voice chat, which has become more accessible than ever with the advent of free platforms like Skype and Discord. But these communication methods are limited to persistent groups like guilds, not organically formed parties or random passersby, and they can be very finicky to set up. Honestly, I think it would be a huge turnoff to have voice chat enabled for just anyone, partly because I hate the sound of my own voice and want random Internet strangers to hear it as little as possible, but mainly because that would make the random obscenities and vitriol that so often crop up in zone chat all the more intrusive and draining.

I don’t really have a good solution for this problem. I don’t really want to go back to point-and-click games, but I think that modern controls schemes, along with all of the other factors mentioned at the opening of this post, have increasingly dragged down social interaction in MMOs. Is there a middle ground? A solution that wouldn’t just be annoying and inconvenient and simply push players away? Probably not. We’ll probably never be as social as we were back in the olden days, and that’s a reality that we’re just going to have to live with.

Fashionably Late to the Diablo III Party


First off, sorry that it’s been so long since I posted. I feel like I should just declare December a no-blog month from now on, because it seems like I always think I’m going to get lots of time for gaming, but then it doesn’t end up happening. And when gaming doesn’t happen, I don’t have much to blog about, and even less time to write about it.

Anyways, what little gaming I did do in December was unexpectedly dominated by Diablo III. I know, it’s over five years old, but I gave up on being cutting edge a long time ago. I really like the Diablo-like gameplay style, but I’ve never been very attracted to the grimdark, apocalyptic, demon-themed setting of actual Diablo games. I’d rather play lighter derivatives like, say, Marvel Heroes. Except that I can’t play that anymore, can I? (Yes, I’m still bitter) I recently saw the base Diablo III box on clearance for $5 at my local Walmart, so I thought I’d give it a shot, and hopefully ease the sting of Marvel Heroes’ passing.

I have to say, the gameplay is really addicting. It’s one of those games that doesn’t involve a ton of thought, but provides an experience that’s best described as “satisfying.” I have heard it compared, on more than one occasion, to popping bubble wrap. My first character was a monk, and I’ve been really surprised by how much fun he is. I figured he’d be a boring, single-target melee class that I could learn the ropes with, then move on to more interesting things (after all, as I’ve mentioned before, my fist MMO character is almost always doomed to be abandoned as the urge to alt sets in). I bought the necromancer DLC while it was on sale because I love summoners in any RPG, but I’ve barely touched it because the monk has been so much fun. He has a surprising amount of AoE, with spinning kicks and exploding bleeds and all. I’m sure I’ll go back and try the other classes–I played Torchlight II at least most of the way through on two of the original classes and a few fan-made mod classes–but I think I’m going to try to finish with my monk first.

As for the story it’s… meh. But that’s just what I’ve come to expect from ARPGs. Marvel Heroes’ story felt like a weak excuse to send you from zone to zone (I don’t think I ever even finished the post-Doom stories). Torchlight and Torchlight II… probably had stories, but I really don’t remember them. Diablo III at least has some good voice-over work, but it still seems like it can be summed up as “demons are bad and want to kill everybody, and you should probably stop them. Oh, and angels are basically Diablo elves who are super powerful but don’t care about the plight of humans.”

If I had to pick between Diablo III and Torchlight II, I’d probably go with Torchlight II. Honestly, they’re both great, solid games, but they’re basically the same game. The things that sway me in Torchlight’s direction are that the graphics are more appealing to me (sort of WoW-ish colorful and cartoony stylization), and, given that Diablo III is always online, it can’t support mods or player created maps, which really extended the life of Torchlight II for me.

I’m about half way through Act III of Diablo III, and I’m hoping to finish before the end of January so I can try that retro Diablo anniversary event.

Farewell Marvel Heroes, Hello Warframe

It’s been a while since I was so immersed in a game that it caused me to lose all track of time. And yet Warframe, a story-light shooter of all things, sucked me in over the weekend and, before I knew it, I had been playing for over four hours.

Oddly enough, the reason why I gave Warframe another try was because of Marvel Heroes. I was reading some forum and comment threads about what people were replacing the game with. Of course, there were a lot of people saying that there’s nothing out there to replace it, because a lot of the charm of Marvel Heroes was wrapped up in the Marvel name. I expected to see a lot of Path of Exile–both games are shameless, online Diablo clones, after all–but I was surprised to see Warframe popping up just as often, if not more so. Warframe is obviously a who different genre than Marvel Heroes, so at first it feels kind of strange, but beyond that, it actually has a lot of similarities. Both games are sort-of-but-not-quite MMORPGs with a lot of mindless action. They’re both heavily instanced, with random group matching, or not if you like playing solo. They both have a ton of “classes”–52 Warframes to Marvel Heroes’ 63 heroes–and both games have excellent free to play models, with all of those classes being earned in game or bought with money. And, as I thought about it, I realized that that was one of my favorite things about Marvel Heroes; it fed into my altaholism in the same way that Warframe had the potential to do. Another thing that both games have in common is that they’re both kind of hard to get into, so it took a couple of attempts, but now I think it’s safe to say that I’m hooked.

I’m still mourning the untimely loss of Marvel Heroes, but at least some good came out of it. I had dabbled in Warframe before, but I wouldn’t have given it as serious a look if I hadn’t read so many glowing reviews of it from ex Marvel Heroes players.

Alas, Poor Marvel Heroes! I Knew Him


Well, it’s official. Marvel Heroes is dead, or at least it soon will be. Of all the MMOs I have played over the years, I never would have guessed this would be the first to go. It’s never been one of my main games, but it’s always been something I come back to from time to time. It’s the perfect game to pick up a new character, blow some stuff up, and move on. No big time commitment, not a lot to think about, just punching bad guys. There aren’t many MMOs that do that well. Back in 2013, I wasn’t a big Marvel fan (I hadn’t even seen most of the movies at that point), but I was fresh off of an obsession with Torchlight II, and was just thinking how cool a Torchlight MMO would be when I saw an announcement for Marvel Heroes. I was initially excited about it because of the kind of game it was, but later I recognized what a perfect game it was for the IP, and I can honestly say that I don’t think I would have been as interested in the Marvelverse as I am if it hadn’t been for this game. Marvel Heroes educated me about a lot of Marvel characters–Rocket Raccoon, Deadpool, Captain Marvel, and, most importantly, Squirrel Girl–long before they showed up in movies or TV shows. Translating comic book characters to ARPG power sets sounds almost as fun to design as it is to play. There will never be another game quite like it.

I was sick yesterday morning when the news hit Massively Overpowered, so I immediately logged in, and there were a lot of mixed reactions. At that time, the official forum announcement hadn’t yet been made, so a lot of people were in denial about it, even coming from legitimate sources like MassivelyOP and Kotaku. Most were stunned or sad. Some people were angry, perhaps rightfully so for those who had just dropped money into the game with little hope of a refund. I feel worst for the console players, who had already been a bit price gouged, and now won’t even get to enjoy their purchase for a whole year before it’s unceremoniously ripped away from them.

I’ll keep the game installed, but I don’t know how much I’ll play before the lights go out December 31st. I’d like to get a couple characters to cap, just to say I did it. I was never good at sticking with a character, especially once I had most or all of my skills unlocked. The whole thing is really sad. We aren’t even clear at this time on why it’s happening; some say it’s because of harassment accusations leveled at the CEO, some say it’s due to lack of money. Maybe a bit of both. I don’t really care what the reason is, I just know I’m going to really miss this game.

You know, in hindsight, we really should have seen this coming. I’m not talking about the lack of communication or legal allegations, I’m not even talking about what a terrible track record superhero MMOs have, I’m talking about back in Spring when they changed the game’s name to “Marvel Heroes: Omega,” and then announced that Ragnarök would be coming. Clear signs of the end times for this game.
…too soon?

How To Ensure I Never Come Back To Your MMO

Ever feel like it’s too much work to go back to a game you used to enjoy? Like games have put up as many road blocks as they can to prevent you from coming back and possibly giving them money? I feel like I’ve been running into that a lot lately in some of my favorite games. Here are a few of the biggest ways to ensure that I won’t be coming back to your MMO any time soon.

Merge Your Servers and Don’t Give Me Slots
Let’s start with the bantha in the room. I logged into Star Wars The Old Republic the night after the server mergers and was greeted with the above. All thirty eight of my characters merged down to one server, with only nineteen character slots. Guess I’m not going to be making any new characters on that game ever again. On top of that, maybe a third of my characters had name conflicts. Granted, some of those were “vanity” names I’ve had since launch that I knew I was going to lose, but some of them are randomly generated names that just happen to collide with someone, somewhere. Now I have to come up with new names that still fit the character that I’ve grown attached to with a name that I can no longer have. The really crazy thing is that, for a couple of my oldest characters, this will be the third time I’ve had to rename them due to server mergers. I ended up just logging out without even activating any of them, and I don’t feel particularly motivated to try again.

Nerf Your Free to Play Model
While I’m ranting about SWTOR, let’s talk about their free-to-play model. When they went free-to-play, they didn’t have the best model, but it was passable. The purple gear restriction was annoying, but at least there’s an account wide unlock. The dungeon and raid restrictions were dumb, but at least there were weekly passes that could be bought from the cash shop or other players. The credit cap was harsh, and to this day it doesn’t really do anything to stop bots, as is its (supposed) purpose. I was hoping that one day they might dial all of it back some, especially that last one, given that their business model is now primarily build around lockboxes (which isn’t on this list, but really could be), but I was sadly disappointed. With Knights of the Eternal Throne, they unified everything in this Command XP thing that’s only available to subscribers. The idea is good–you can get endgame gear by filling a Command XP bar, and there are a variety of different endgame activities that give Command XP, so you can pick and choose what game type you enjoy most–except that it tells free-to-play players that they might as well not waste their time playing this game, pretty much guaranteeing that I won’t ever be back seriously.

Go Radio Silent
When all lines of communication out of your studio suddenly go dark, you lose a lot of consumer confidence. This is what’s currently going on over at Marvel Heroes. It doesn’t matter what the reason is, your players are over here assuming the worst. And, given the track record of superhero MMOs being shut down or shelved with no warning, players probably have a right to panic.

Never Add Solo PvE Content
Ah, WildStar, how I miss thee. But there’s only so much time I can spend doing dailies in Arcterra before I get bored. There are only so many times that I have fun can rolling new characters. Yes, WildStar has added new group content, but group content is something that I can only do at specific times, and only when I feel like interacting with my guild. Solo content is something that I can do at any time, which is a lot more likely to keep me interested in the game.

Add Content That Leaves Me Behind
This is a weird one, and it doesn’t happen often, but sometimes I come back to a game and just so much has changed that it takes a lot to get me back into it. Usually games are smart about just tacking things onto the end of the game–level cap bumps and such–but I can think of two instances when this has kept me out of games. One is RuneScape, and that was a matter of years of updates under new leadership. In the time that I was away from that game, there was a combat overhaul, a graphics overhaul, and several new skills introduced, not to mention the massive economic changes. The other is Marvel Heroes, with their “biggest update ever.” Every single character had their skills completely redone, meaning that players basically had to relearn how to play each character. To make matters worse, they also handed out a lot of compensation boxes, meaning that it was a few hours before I was able to dig out my inventory and bank and actually get to the point where I could play those freshly reworked characters.

5 MMOs I Wish I Was Playing

Free time is a limited resource, and I can usually only budget my time into two, maybe three, games, MMO or not, before one or more of them get pushed out. Don’t get me wrong, I feel like I get plenty of gaming time in, but there are a lot of games out there that I’d love to be playing right now that I simply haven’t had time to get to, or haven’t gotten to in a while. Here are my top five right now.

Destiny 2
This is, of course, the big new game in the genre. Yes, it’s an MMO-shooter hybrid, and I’m not really into shooters, but I loved the Mass Effect games, and couldn’t stop thinking how great those games would be as an MMO. Destiny 2 isn’t Mass Effect, but I think it could give a similar feel.
I played the PC beta, and, to be honest, I wasn’t terribly impressed by the story presentation. It wasn’t awful, but they did a very poor job explaining who these people are and why I should care about anything that’s happening. Maybe there are some things in the live game that I didn’t get in the beta?

Warframe
Speaking of MMO-shooter hybrids, there’s also Warframe. I gave this game a try a while back when Twitch Prime gave away a free ‘frame (promos work!), and was surprised by how much fun I had. I was especially impressed smoothness of the gameplay (running into a room, sliding, and headshotting a bunch of enemies with my bow before I stop is oddly satisfying). After the initial story arc I was a little lost as to what I was doing, ended up getting destroyed by some missions that were likely too high for me, and never got back around to it.

WildStar
I wrote a whole post on this not long ago, so I won’t rehash it here. Suffice it to say that I’ve been thinking about this game a lot lately, and I think I might just have to go back before the excellent Halloween event is over.

Guild Wars 1
I never played the original Guild Wars when it was in its heyday, but since I’ve been into Guild Wars 2, I picked this game up as well. I’d like to play through the Nightfall campaign, as it shares a location (and, apparently, some themes) with Guild Wars 2’s new Path of Fire expansion. Guild Wars is one of those games that seems fun, but I’ve always had trouble finding a class that I can get into. Hopefully one of these times I’ll go back and find one that clicks.

Star Trek Online
I used to make at least an annual pilgrimage back to this game, but I haven’t really played seriously since I played through the Legacy of Romulus expansion. I love Star Trek, but was really disappointed by Discovery. I’m not sure if that makes me want to come back for a dose of “good” Star Trek (not that STO is always high quality or canonically consistent by any stretch of the imagination), or stay away from it because inevitably there will be ST:D (seriously, CBS, you really need to think about your acronyms. There are five other space shuttles you could name your show after, you know) crossover content.